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Kingfishers Catch Fire

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  295 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
Sophie, a young English woman with two children, goes to set up home in fabulous Kashmir, finding a tumbled-down house in a valley carpeted with flowers below the Himalayas. Settling down to live there she is blissfully ignorant of the turmoil that her arrival produces. Sophies cook is finally prompted to take action and the consequences of his innocent plotting are ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 8th 2002 by Pan (first published 1953)
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While reading this I was thinking how much it reads like a memoir even though it is a novel. However, after reading the author's note it all makes sense. While this is fiction, the author draws much of the story from her own life experiences as a mother on her own with two young children as she attempts to live a peasant's life in India.

In the story, the woman Sophie is a widow (but not a sad one; in real life the author was divorced) and her husband leaves her destitute. She could go home to En
Feb 02, 2014 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do think Rumer Godden is an excellent writer – her depictions of childhood in novels such as Greengage Summer, The River and Breakfast with the Nikolides are extraordinarily vivid. While her novels of British life in India such as Coromandel Sea Change and The Peacock Spring mean I always associate her with India, although not all her novels are set there. She was a prolific writer, and so I still have many to read, I am thankful to say. Kingfishers Catch fire was obviously written in the wake ...more
Sep 21, 2016 Arlene rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
This is my least favorite of the Rumor Godden novels I have read. I suppose that most people can be categorized as a Sophie or a Teresa. Sophies are the people who are adventurous and heedless to the advice of others. Then there are Teresas who want the ordinary creature comforts that come with the predictability that drive the Sophies of the world mad. I am a Teresa so I understood the young Teresa's dismay with her mother. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine living in a place that put myself ...more
Aug 28, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it
Quasi-autobiographical, Kingfishers Catch Fire is strange, moving, and terrifying in parts. It's slighter than some of her novels, recounting the eighteen months Godden spent in near-total poverty in a house in Kashmir, but bracingly honest when it comes to describing the relationship between the British, post-Raj, and the independent State. She also doesn't hold back in describing the cruelty that children can visit upon each other, something I've always appreciated about her work.

Apr 04, 2008 Teryl rated it really liked it
Shelves: lost-families
What a brilliant book about responsibility. The child has a sense of it, her mother does not. In a "whatever", "go-with-the-flow" way, the mother is unintentionally quite dangerous. A subtle and precise portrait of negligent parenting.
Jul 25, 2016 Theresa rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
“In India a woman alone does not go and live alone – not, at any rate, far from her own kind, not unless she is a saint or a great sinner. Sophie was not a saint, or a sinner, but she was undeniably a woman.”

I was left with mixed feelings from this novel that depicted life in a small peasant village in India.

Sophie, left by the unexpected early death of her husband Denzil, has become gravely ill. Taken to a Mission hospital, her long recovery results in new friendships for her, but Sophie will b
May 10, 2016 Jeanette rated it liked it
Having read about 7 or 8 of her fiction novels, this one is, for me, rather below the high bar. It held some scrumptious description and nailed the locale. But Sophia is highly, highly autobiographical in the exact time, placement, situation, and outcome sense, despite this being fiction. And that is odd for most of Rumer Godden's fiction. In other words, this held far less imaginary personality of the principles for that highest degree which I find so superb in her novels.

Sophia (main characte
Dec 18, 2014 Hope rated it liked it
Shelves: literature, culture
"In India a woman alone does not go and live alone – not, at any rate, far from her own kind, not unless she is a saint or a great sinner. Sophie was not a saint, or a sinner, but she was undeniably a woman."

So begins the novel, Kingfishers Catch Fire, by British author Rummer Godden (1907-1998). Godden grew up in India and used her experiences as a background for this novel. Kingfishers is the story of Sophie Barrington Ward who takes her two children to live in Kashmir. Her husband, a British
Mar 27, 2014 Martin rated it it was amazing
I could not believe this was written sixty years ago. To me, it read like contemporary fiction: an independent woman takes on a vainglorious project and has endless miscommunications due to her lack of cultural awareness. I first heard about the book in a BBC documentary about the author where she discussed the real life drama that inspired the book. So I knew where it was going.

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel with an omniscient narrator who is as unlimited as this one. There is a lot of
Brendan Hodge
Jan 07, 2013 Brendan Hodge rated it liked it
Set in 1950s Kashmir, the novel chronicles roughly a year in the life of a young widow and her two children, as she tries to life off the pension of her late husband (who worked in the Indian colonial civil service) by renting a cottage in a small mountain village and living as the only Europeans in the town. Godden drew on her own experiences living in Kashmir, the book has a strong sense of place and does a good job of drawing out the tensions between the various native and colonial cultures, ...more
Nov 15, 2014 Judy rated it it was amazing
In the early 1950's, an expat Brit facing boredom and penury decamps from India with her two children to a remote town in Kashmir. As the consummate romantic outsider with the best intentions, she wreaks havoc on the village and her family. This semi-autobiographical novel is beautifully written with honesty and lyrical descriptions of the Kashmiri landscape.
May 29, 2014 Jo rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Especially so knowing that it was quite autobiographical and echoed a time in the authors life. It did sweep me to the time and place and I really felt for the main character trying to do so much but failing due to a total lack of understanding of the nuances in a culture very different to her own and the damage that can be done as a result.
May 31, 2012 Linden rated it it was amazing
Possibly my favorite book.
Nov 10, 2016 Jacqueline rated it liked it
This was a difficult book for me. I don't know if it was the point of view, or the fact that Sophie was oblivious to the needs of her children.
Nov 19, 2016 Emmie rated it really liked it
Set in exotic surroundings, the story touches on humanity and compassion in the mist of prejudice and mistrust.
Ruth Brumby
Oct 08, 2016 Ruth Brumby rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable book with entrancing descriptions of Kashmir and engaging characters. It is about a woman living on her own with her children and whether she needs to lean on the support of a man or the ex-patriate community or various others who would like to control her in some way. It also deals with the misunderstandings that arise between different cultures and with different perspectives on money and possessions. So, although could be seen as a light romantic novel, it also provokes ...more
Oct 09, 2016 Janice rated it it was amazing
It is a beautiful book.
Feb 20, 2015 Susan added it
I enjoyed this book and although I found the main a bit naive she was very believable ad I did feel for her. I loved the descriptions of Kashmir and the local characters were very lively and interesting. It is an older book so a little dated in some ways but that was part of its charm.

Sophie's innocence that lead to all the problems was of her time. Her total misunderstanding of the local ways was because she didn't really belong to either the memsahib whites not to the locals and was scorned by
Jan 17, 2015 Katie rated it did not like it
I have to be honest; I did start this book (and read only a chapter) a few weeks ago and I just found it really hard to follow, so I left it and now i've come back to it again.

The setting is in Himalayan Kashmir and there is use of old English and Indian words or phrases which I don't quite understand as I am English. Maybe this is why i'm not following it... I will try to continue to read this book, but I really don't think I will be continuing it much longer if it doesn't get more exciting.

I m
Jan 17, 2013 Carofish rated it liked it
It's been ages since I have read Rumer Godden and found this on the shelf in the library. Set in Kashmir it's the story of a very stubborn, and sometimes irritating, Englishwoman who takes her children to live away from the ex- pat community. She makes the presumption that she can change things for the better, which generally happened wherever the English went, and tragedy strikes when her family's presence upsets the balance of the village. Rumer Godden's descriptions are masterful and her ...more
Aug 11, 2016 Judie rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! The setting is picturesque, if not exotic. The writing is deceptively simple for such a complex theme. I have a great interest in learning about other cultures through fiction. Godden captures the difficulty of getting along and living well in a culture that has very different values than one's own. The main character, Sophie, puts the lie to the old adage, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere." Sophie is nothing if not sincere. She is also ...more
Skylar Hatfield
Apr 21, 2011 Skylar Hatfield rated it liked it
It took me a little time to open up to this book. The style was different from what I had recently read, and I wan't ready to work at reading. The book is worth the work, however. This book may make you want to travel to India. It opened my mind to adventure. This is not a travelogue. The beautifully described setting is Kashmir, and Kashmir culture is a topic of the story. The book is more about the realities we build for ourselves, our interpretation of culture, our desire for freedom and ...more
Jun 07, 2016 Christine rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
There is something comforting about Rumer Godden's simple prose. At the same time it is discomfiting, because there are always deep undercurrent hiding beneath the surface. Things are seldom as they seem. Much of what I've read of hers hangs on this tension. This book joins Greengage Summer and Black Narcissus as Rumer Godden books I would read again and would like to see made into 21st century movies.

I thought the protagonist in this book was an idiot; nevertheless, I felt for her, and cheered
Aug 07, 2011 Yvonne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young, stubborn englishwoman with her two little children moves to Kashmir and rents a house on a mountainside. While trying to live an idyllic existence amidst her orchards, flowers and beautiful vistas she inadvertently causes a serious catastrophe that affects her family and the families of all the villagers. By carefully ignorning social customs, glossing over errors she makes in how she interacts with local people and children, she just reinforces, in my mind, the caucasian trait (or ...more
Nov 28, 2008 Kyra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Katie, Emma, Juliet, Julia
I first read this when I was about 13 and I re-read it every 10 years or so. Rumer Godden is one of the great unsung writers of the English language. Her books are exquisitely plotted, beautifully written and push & pull your emotions around. She almost always uses the perspective of children to balance the adult plots, and she does so to great effect.
I highly recommend absolutely anything written by Rumer Godden who was a fascinating woman in her own right as well as a superb writer. I only
Rosie Amber
Mar 11, 2013 Rosie Amber rated it it was ok
As a very young child, I remember seeing this book on my mother's bookshelf. The exotic authors name and the title promised a great story within the covers, however I remember being so disappointed that the book was for adults and had no pictures! How could anyone read a book without pictures? Now as an adult I've read the book and conjured my own pictures in my mind of kashmir and the people. It tells of one woman's desire to live amongst the local people and how she struggled to fit in and be ...more
Clare Bear
Jan 06, 2008 Clare Bear rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Clare by: Mother
Rumer Goddens's female protagonists are always left of centre individuals with their own ideas on how to live.

Sophie, mother of two, takes her children with her to live in Kashmir, and this story is how she naively and bravely attempts not only to survive as a widowed white woman in a tribal village - but to blossom as well; to engage the village; to be engaged.

Sophie made mistakes, but she tried.

I enjoyed this work because Sophie never gave up, or settled for anything less than what she really
Jul 01, 2015 Kate rated it it was ok
I willed myself to like this book, about a woman bringing up her children in rural, colonial Kashmir, and her relationships with the people around her. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't. I nearly gave up on it about 3 times, but am ultimately glad I persevered, just about. Nothing happens for the first 200 pages which I waded my way through, but if I'd given up then, I would have missed the only part that has any plot. It does get better towards the end and so has 2 stars instead of just 1.
Nov 17, 2013 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is probably a 3.5 star book, in my opinion. I like the style of writing and the setting. Some of the characters (particularly Sophie, the main character) are rather infuriating, but may be true to form for people of their time. It's a period and place that I know very little about and for this reason I found the story engaging. The descriptions of the landscape and its people are beautiful.
This book begins ridiculously slowly and I've never been a theme of the British-in-India scenario as a good plotline (take that, A Little Princess!). However once I finally managed to get interested in it (a good way through the book) this develops into a piece of Rumer Godden genius. I would recommend skimming the first bit, nothing much happens.
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Margaret Rumer Godden was born in Sussex, but grew up in India, in Narayanganj. Many of her 60 books are set in India. Black Narcissus was made into a famous movie with Deborah Kerr in 1947.

Godden wrote novels, poetry, plays, biographies, and books for children.

For more information, see the official website: Rumer Godden
More about Rumer Godden...

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“Why do religions have edges?" asked Teresa....
"God is here," said the printed text on the wall. "Yes," said Sophie. "But," she asked, "isn't He everywhere? Then why do they make Him little?" And she thought of those edges, pressing against each other, hurting, jarring, offending, barring one human being from another, shutting away their understanding and their souls.
Yet if you have no edges, thought Sophie, how lonely, how drifting, you must consent to be.”
“Nabir came out to drive the children away, but she stopped him. "I like to be friendly she said."
"But they are not your friends," said Nabir. "You don't know them."
"Respect first," Nabir would have said if he could have explained, "friendship after.”
More quotes…